Yonabaru Giant Tug-of-War
Picture a huge straw rope, almost two feet wide and a football field long, being tugged on by hundreds of people in a dirt playground under a sunny sky - and that is the Yonabaru Giant Tug-of-War. Yes, it was just as amazing as it sounds.
The tradition of a giant tugging contest in Yonabaru extends all the way back to Ryukyu times, or 400 years ago. The tale goes that the Yonabaru village was losing crops and starving due to insects. An elderly sage told the chief to fashion a rope and have both sides pulled while praying and ringing bells to get rid of the insects. It worked! And it's been a tradition to ward off famine and ensure plentiful harvests and good health ever since.
Now Yonabaru, a seaside village outside Naha, holds a three-day festival in August to celebrate. We decided to join on the third day - the main event at 5pm - the giant rope parade and tugging.
The festival is set up on the grounds of an elementary school - bright food and game tents and bleachers surround the main area.
Eventually the rope is carried in, accompanied by drums and chanting. It's brought in split in half from two sides of the field - the purple side and red side. On top perch representatives of the traditional village - a fisherman, farmer, aristocrat, etc. Once the rope is brought in, it's stretched out. Then the two halves are joined by pushing a log through the loops on either end. Suddenly, the rope is dropped, the representatives jump off, and the tugging begins!!
Reis and Knox both joined in the tugging - we were team Red!! There was a bit of a crush and people lost flip flops! And I think we won! Anyway, everyone stopped and our side started clapping and cheering!
I loved the community spirit - it's so fun how one simple game can bring a whole field of people together. It was the most fun we've had at a festival EVER. The boys loved it.
If you're part of the winning team, you can cut off a piece of the rope to take home. This means you'll have good health and prosperity for the year. Who wouldn't love that?
Another great day, another unforgettable Okinawan festival that we'll make sure to mark on our calendars for next year!